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Dealing with that withering sense of disappointment

Steps to Success

That clenching in the throat and feeling of an elevator plummeting through one’s stomach the withering sensation of disappointment. It’s the result when reality does not meet our expectations, and our hopes do not manifest: the bike we never got that Christmas, the unthought-of adverse actions of another, the job interview or exam we thought we’d aced but the response proved different. Big or small, disappointment stings with a mix of negative emotions including anger, hurt, sadness, frustration and self-pity.

This week, I got a little taste of it. Fortunately it was only a minor ‘wouldn’t it have been nice if …’ kind of let-down, but I was fascinated to observe in my reactions.

At first I was incredulous, checking and rechecking my inbox: ‘It can’t be true!’ Then came some bitter blaming and excuse making, followed by thoughts of “what if I’d done this?” After this the pity party began: “I’m no good at anything!” A bit of a crisis of confidence ensued before finally taking myself in hand and realising: I can either choose to get hung up about it or I can try again and do better next time (all this in the space of about two hours).

That emotional and thought process I went through, surprisingly mirrors the typical ‘Five Stages of Grief’ as outlined by death and dying experts, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler:

1. Denial; 2. Anger; 3. Bargaining; 4. Depression; 5. Acceptance.

Although ‘grief’ may seem extreme for mere disappointment, when our hopes are blighted, even in my case where my investment in the outcome was relatively small, we still suffer a sense of loss.

Certainly where the stakes are much higher: a job loss, funding cutbacks, tough competition for limited opportunities, pressure for results, a business folding, a property purchase falling through, relationship breakdown etc, knowing what to expect from our disappointment and an awareness of what we are feeling can help us to better cope with our setbacks before regrouping and taking positive steps to bounce back from them.

Some thoughts on dealing with disappointment:

* Allow yourself to feel whatever comes up. We tend to get embarrassed by our emotions, perhaps fearing it childish to feel things deeply, and so try to gloss over or repress them. I’m not suggesting we act on our negative reactions, but accepting and allowing them as part of a process is a gentler way to treat oneself.

* Choose how will you react. Do you really want to be a quitter or a moper wallowing in self-pity? Decide to respond in line with your best self.

* Anger and blame may feature in your disappointment but being mean, vengeful or spiteful towards others is likely only going to make any situation worse by damaging relationships and impacting your own health and stress levels.

* Keep perspective. Don’t let one disappointment erode your confidence and colour all your perceptions with self-pity. Make a list of the positive things you have and have achieved, compared to this one incident, and keep it on hand to maintain your self-esteem.

* Learn from the disappointment. Take the opportunity to redefine what you are truly looking for and all the things you can be doing to get that/improve on that. Then when appropriate, gather feedback. Others will have to agree to it, but if you can follow up a rejected job interview or that ‘D’ graded paper to find out how you could improve the next time, it is not a lost experience. Remember, you’ll have to be willing to hear the response, so if you are feeling raw, a little distance from the initial disappointment is advised.

* Let go of attachment to specific outcome. Knowing why we want the things we want we can recognise there are often multiple ways of achieving our goals.

* One door shuts, another opens. Fear and a lack of abundance-thinking keeps us clinging to our losses and disappointment can sometimes tunnel our vision to what we missed, preventing us seeing what else is out there. Trust that there are better things on the horizon and keep an open mind and eyes peeled for other opportunities to present themselves.

* We win some, we lose some. If we accept that it’s a numbers game and that some losses are inevitable to achieve the gains, it takes the disappointment out of them. Consider it as being just one more rejection closer to a win. Don’t let one disappointment stop you taking measured risks and following your goals.

* If you find you are being disappointed on a frequent basis, some questions to ask yourself: is the disappointment confined to one particular area of your life or broader? Consider your expectations: are they reasonable (eg can you identify others genuinely achieving the results you are looking for)? Are they realistic (have you got all the resources: time-frame/money/training etc for the results you seek or are there gaps you need to improve on)? Perhaps some expectations need to be adjusted. If your expectations are reasonable and realistic but someone/something is regularly not meeting them, take action to address it, possibly by communicating your expectations more clearly or ultimately perhaps distancing or removing yourself from the source of disappointment.

Disappointment is never fun but when we know what it is we’re going through, we are better equipped to ride the wave of grief, avoid adding insult to injury berating ourselves about how we feel, and pick up the pieces to come back stronger with a fresh perspective and having learned something from the experience.

Julia Pitt is a trained success coach and certified NLP practitioner. For further information telephone 705-7488 or visit www.juliapittcoaching.com

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Published April 23, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated April 22, 2013 at 2:06 pm)

Dealing with that withering sense of disappointment

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